I called to check on an old friend right after Labor Day. We talked for a couple of minutes before he dropped a bombshell. When I asked about his wife, he flatly stated “I just don’t love her anymore.”
I thought he was kidding…but he wasn’t. He went on to say that they had just grown apart. Their kids were all out of the house and he felt as if they were just roommates (his words). There was no excitement nor spark in their relationship.
I asked if they had tried counseling. He stated, “she’s become critical of anything and everything I do, so why would I subject myself to that sort of punishment?” He wondered aloud what life would be like if he just started over.
Thirty years, two kids, great careers and a beautiful home. But it was all crumbling inside.
I was stunned. How could this have happened to my friends? I carried this weight with me for weeks.
I thought about several of my friends who had successful, happy marriages. What was the secret to having a good marriage? I decided to contact them and ask. While the answers were all a bit varied, I found six central themes that I thought I’d share.
Find the good in your spouse and praise it. The world is cruel. We are surrounded by clouds of negativity everywhere we go. Think about all the negative influences that you encounter every day…and realize that your spouse experiences that too. A little encouragement goes a long way. Your home should become a safe place. Find aspects of their lives that they excel in…and tell them about it. Have they done something great at work? Applaud it. Did they look nice as they left for work this morning? Compliment them. A few kind words can not only brighten their day, but it starts a habit of having you look for the positive in people- and expressing it. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Date your spouse. Think about the things that you and your spouse enjoy and commit to doing them regularly. Many of the people I talked to said that they have a “date night” each week. They find a good restaurant or go see a movie. A couple said that they had struggled to find things that they had in common, so they invested in accompanying their spouse in things that they enjoyed (hiking, watching a television program together or going for a bike ride). Find a community service or church activity that you both can participate in on a regular basis. Commit the time and stay focused on making it a priority.
Comparison is the thief of joy. Things just aren’t always what they appear. We can’t compare our marriages to those we see on social media or in the community. Couples everywhere try to put their big smiles, perfectly-dressed kids and spectacular vacation destinations on display, but appearances don’t always show the pain and brokenness that might be present in their lives. Instead of comparing your marriage to those images of “perfection” around you, focus on what you can impact- which is your own marriage. What brings you contentment? What brings your spouse peace? Focus on THOSE things…the little things that can bring peace and joy to your relationship.
Don’t keep secrets. If theres’s a habit or behavior that is keeping you from a total commitment to your spouse- remove it from your life (or at least modify it). It might be something that keeps you away from home like a hobby or community activity. Or perhaps it’s allowing comparison (see above) to distract your focus from your first love. Or maybe it’s a secret desire that you are holding inside. Whatever it is, take an honest assessment of your inner thoughts and actions and commit to eliminating these from your life. I talk about counseling a bit later (see below), but finding a professional to talk to can help if you are struggling with tough issues. Many of the people I talked to suggested that having an accountability partner that focused on helping you maintain positive relationships. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Luke 8:17
Pray with and for your spouse. Spend several quiet moments each day praying for your marriage, for your spouse (specifically) and for your life together. Commit to quietly doing this for several months. This year I’m reading Forty Prayers for My Wife and I would highly recommend it to others as well (there’s a companion book for spouses who pray for their husbands, too). Committing to pray for someone intensely makes an incredible difference in your spiritual life. It also draws you closer to the needs and desires of your spouse. And once you have established the routine of praying for your spouse, ask them to pray with you each day. Be intentional about this time together. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12
Seek the help of experts. Many of the people I talked with stated that they visited a Christian counselor once a year or committed to marriage enrichment retreats and seminars. They admitted that the counseling was helpful to breaking down communication barriers and uncovering hidden hurts before they became overwhelming. They planned their visit(s) at the very beginning of the year and kept them on their calendars as priority events. Others said that they committed to spending time with couples that were in different stages in life that could mentor them. Spending time with others who want to invest in your relationship can only benefit both of you.
I’m not a relationship expert, but I’m grateful to know many people who are willing to share their marriage advice and wise counsel.
This year I am committed to praying for my wife and my marriage. She deserves my very best each and every day. I will also pray for marriages that are hurting, as we never know how our friends and neighbors are struggling. I will also commit to pray for those who have been wounded by broken relationships- and remain focused on the healing that only Jesus can provide.
And as always, let me know how I may pray for you.